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Note: This was written for the [ profile] oldschoolfic 2007 Holiday Fic Exchange.

Holiday Fic Exchange -- A Time For Families
Title: A Time For Families
Fandom: Forever Knight
Author: [info]malinaldarose
Characters: Natalie, Janette, Nick
Word Count: Approximately 2,340
For: [info]amilyn and [info]oldschoolficHoliday Fic Exchange 2008
Prompt: Family

"Nat, stop. Please. I'm not going to celebrate Christmas and that's final." Nick Knight, metro homicide detective -- and 800 year old vampire -- picked up his coat. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work."

"But, Nick, I think it's really important for you to do this...." Natalie's voice trailed off as she realized she was talking to an empty room. She hadn't even seen Nick leave. "Damn. I hate it when he does that."

She turned back to her desk, annoyed, but the report she'd been working on before she and Nick had argued could not keep her attention. She smacked a hand down on her desk. "It's only Christmas. It's not like it's something he hasn't seen before." Natalie fuzzily remembered a quote from Dickens, something the Ghost of Christmas Present had said about having more than 1,800 brothers. Nick had seen nearly half of those. She shook her head. Sometimes the sheer weight of his history made her dizzy.

Although Natalie's research had not yet yielded any clues about how to reverse Nick's condition and grant him the wish of his unbeating heart -- to be mortal again -- she was positive that eating solid food would help. And though she had invited him to Christmas dinner, at this stage, she hardly expected him to eat a full meal of turkey and all the trimmings.

Natalie would never admit it to Nick, but she was lonely, and did not want to spend Christmas alone. Her brother's widow and daughter were spending their first Christmas without Richard with the other side of the family -- with her blessing. They needed that far more than she needed company. This would be the first Christmas in a long time that she had spent alone.

She glanced at the bodybag awaiting her attention. "So, tell, me," she said, unzipping it, "what are you doing for Christmas? Or are you Jewish?"

Predictably, she received no answer.

# # #

Janette felt Nicholas' presence as soon as he opened The Raven's door, but remained seated. It would hardly do for her to go to him; in all their centuries together, she had rarely made the first move. She studied him covertly as he passed through the hanging chains, threading his way among the dancers. She remembered the first time she had seen him, dirty and smelly and so very full of himself -- the successful knight returned from Crusading. And yet, something in him, some darkness at his core, had called to her. She smiled wryly to herself. At least the centuries had provided improvements in hygiene.

"Good evening, Nicholas," she said as he slid into the booth next to her. "What brings you to my door?"

"I was in the neighborhood," he said shortly, though he had the grace to raise her hand to his lips.

"Ah," she replied. "How fortunate for me. I should not like you to go out of your way merely to come see me."

The look he gave her was a mixture of exasperation and irony. They sat silently for a while, Janette taking great pleasure in sipping her blood-laced wine and watching Nicholas' silent struggle with himself. One of these days, sooner or later, just as LaCroix had predicted, he would give over this ridiculous quest of his and come back whole-heartedly to her. With LaCroix gone, and no progeny of her own, Nicholas was her only family. She missed him.

"Janette," he said suddenly, "what are you doing for Christmas?"

She stared at him a moment, certain she had misheard him. "Christmas, Nicholas? Whyever are you asking such a thing? I shall do what I always do: open the club."

"Why do we never celebrate, Janette? Why have we never celebrated?"

Janette contemplated him, wondering what fresh torture he had found for himself. His gaze was turned inward and she remembered again that he had been a Crusader. At one time, his faith had been as fervent as any priest's.

"Perhaps," she said dryly, "it has something to do with being burned by crucifixes?"

"There are other aspects to Christmas," Nicholas said.

"Oh, yes, let me see, I do believe that this year I shall put a plate of cookies and milk on the bar for Santa Claus, along with some carrots for his reindeer."

Nicholas snorted and shook his head, returning to the present. "Sorry, Janette. It's just something Natalie said earlier."

Janette restrained herself from rolling her eyes. She should have guessed it had something to do with his mortal friend. "And what has Dr. Lambert said to upset you?"

Nicholas shrugged. "Oh, it's nothing. She asked me to celebrate Christmas with her."

At that, Janette did laugh. "Does she think that you'll go to midnight Mass with her and perhaps put out your own plate of cookies? Or maybe she expects you to carve the turkey for the family?"

"I don't know, Janette. But in all these centuries, why have we never celebrated Christmas? Or any of the other holy days?"

Janette allowed the bloodlust to rise, allowed her eyes to change, though her fangs did not quite drop. He sensed the change immediately, of course, and his gaze locked on hers. "We are not holy people, Nicholas."

Nicholas stood suddenly, and without a word, fled the club. She sighed. "A crisis of faith now, Nicholas?" she said sadly, knowing that he would hear her even over the pounding music and the noise of the dancers, but he did not look back and the door closed between them.

Janette stared into her wineglass, but what she saw was not the red fluid, but Nicholas, attempting to enter a cathedral -- she could not now remember where. Rouen? Milan? St. Petersburg? It mattered not. What mattered was his horror when he finally realized that his faith, one of the central tenets of his life, had been denied him by LaCroix's kiss. The holy water at the font had burned his fingers badly, and he had progressed no farther than that.

Janette herself took a far harder look at the Church, remembering a night when -- still mortal -- she had desperately hoped for sanctuary and been denied, practically thrust back into the arms of a rapist by the priest. If LaCroix had not been following her, she might have died in truth that night. Instead, the rapist had died and she . . . had not. Not precisely. She had shed the trappings of faith gladly. But not Nicholas. And it would not help him that his little mortal wanted him to take them up again.

Janette abruptly came to a decision and stood before she thought better of it. She tried not to interfere in Nicholas' mortal life -- she was not LaCroix, after all, and did not feel the need to control everything he did -- but this request of Dr. Lambert's was causing him real pain, and that, she would not allow.

# # #

Natalie was relaxing in her pajamas with a cup of tea and a trashy novel when the knock sounded on her front door. Since a caller this late could only be an emergency -- or Nick, which often amounted to the same thing -- she did not hesitate to put the book down and answer the door.

"Dr. Lambert," the woman waiting beyond greeted her. Natalie gaped for long enough that Janette smiled faintly. "May I come in?"

Natalie stepped back almost in reflex. "Please. May I take your coat?"

Janette shrugged out of her very expensive coat and handed it to Natalie, who hung it on the halltree. Her silk scarf, she kept around her neck. Natalie showed Janette through to the living room, wondering vaguely if she should nip into the bedroom and retrieve a cross from her jewelry box.

"You have a lovely home, Dr. Lambert," Janette said, "very cozy."

"Please have a seat," Natalie said, waving her visitor toward a chair. "Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee? Wine?" She winced inwardly at her flustered attempts at hospitality, but if Janette was disturbed, she gave no sign.

"No, thank you, Doctor," Janette said.

"Natalie, please."

Janette nodded. "Natalie." She was silent a moment, long enough to make Nat uneasy.

"Is something wrong? Is it Nick?"

"It is Nicholas," Janette said, "but not precisely in the manner that you might think. Tell me, Natalie, what do you know about Nicholas?"

"Beyond the obvious, you mean?" Natalie said. At Janette's nod, she frowned a bit, marshaling her thoughts. "Well, I know that he's about 800 years old, that he has been searching for a cure for his condition for about eighty years, and that you and he go way back."

Janette nodded. "Yes, these are the things that I thought you knew. Nicholas and I -- though we are not currently -- have been lovers for centuries. It was for that reason, in fact, that LaCroix brought him across. You know of LaCroix?"

It was Natalie's turn to nod. "I believe he is something like a father?"

"Very like. In that way, Nicholas and I are not only lovers, but brother and sister, with LaCroix as patriarch of our little family."

Natalie very carefully did not allow her opinion of the thought of Nick and Janette as sibling lovers to show on her face. "And you are telling me this because?"

"Because your invitation to Nicholas to celebrate Christmas has upset him very much, and I do not wish to see him upset. It is as a sister that I come to you to ask you not to persist in this foolishness."

Natalie blinked. "But I didn't mean to upset him at all. I assumed he didn't have plans, but if you and he do something, that's fine."

"You misunderstand me, Natalie," Janette said after a moment. "Nicholas and I do not 'have plans' as you put it. We do not celebrate Christmas. Our kind do not celebrate Christmas. Nor any other days in the Christian calendar."

"But Nick was a Crusader," Natalie protested. "I thought he was Catholic."

"Nicholas was a Crusader," Janette agreed. "But when LaCroix brought him across, he lost that part of himself. He cannot partake of any of the rites of the Church, and that includes celebrating Christmas."

"I didn't ask him to go to Mass with me," Nat said, exasperated. "I just asked him to spend the day with me. I don't have any family nearby and I thought . . . well, I normally spend the day with my brother -- " To her disgust, her voice broke, as she remembered what had happened to Richard.

Janette's voice was unexpectedly gentle when she next spoke. She, too, remembered Richard Lambert, and though she had counseled Nick against bringing him across, she understood Natalie's grief. "What of your brother's wife and daughter?"

"They're going to spend the day with her family," Nat said. She felt the tears in her eyes, but looked up at Janette anyway; because if she tried to hide them, they'd only spill over.

"Have you no other friends?"

"None that don't have plans," Nat replied, feeling the question as a stab to the heart.

"What of Detective Schanke?"

Natalie laughed. "Come on, Janette. Schanke's a nice enough guy, but would you really want to spend a holiday with him?"

Janette closed her eyes and nodded. She had spent more than enough time in Detective Schanke's company. "I see your point."

"Christmas is a time for families," Natalie said. "I only asked Nick because I didn't want to be alone. But I told him that it was to be part of his treatment because I didn't want him to feel sorry for me."

"And so we come to it," Janette said. "This, I understand. I am sorry, Natalie. I misjudged your intent. I saw only that you were hurting Nicholas, not that you were hurting too. For what it's worth, if you do not wish to spend the day alone, you may come to The Raven; there will be many people there also trying not to be alone. And they will not all be vampires."

Natalie smiled. "Thanks, Janette. I'll think about it."

Janette rose from her chair; Nat envied her grace. "I will be going, then. Thank you for your hospitality."

Nat retrieved Janette's coat and opened the door for her. "Thanks for stopping by."

Janette slipped into her coat, nodded, and disappeared into the night.

# # #

Janette arrived at Nick's apartment shortly before he arrived home for the day; she had already wrinkled her nose in disgust at the bottle of cow blood in his refrigerator and settled herself on his couch when he opened the door. He stopped short when he saw her.

"Janette. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I've been to see your friend Natalie," she said. "And there is something that I think you should know."

# # #

"Hey, Nat."

Natalie looked up from the report she was working on. "Nick. What's up?"

"I was wondering if the offer to celebrate Christmas with you was still open? I've been giving it some thought, and if you really think it's an important part of my therapy, then we should definitely do it." He smiled slightly. "So, um, what do you do?"

"Well, Detective Knight, you show up around 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I'll show you." She smiled mischievously. "Have you ever seen It's a Wonderful Life?"

He shook his head. "No. Never. Is it good?"

"It's a classic!" Natalie said. "And you can't avoid finding some channel running it. I think there's a law somewhere that says that every television channel, including the news channel, has to run It's a Wonderful Life at least twice during the Christmas season."

"All right. It's a date." Nick turned to go, hesitated, turned back. "I'm sorry, Nat," he said softly, "that you won't be spending the day with your family."

She smiled crookedly. "Family is what you make it, Nick."


Notes: This story is set after the first season episode "I Will Repay" in which Nat's brother is shot and Nick makes him a vampire...with disastrous results. didn't quite go where I intended, but stories have a way of getting away from one if one isn't paying attention.

Disclaimer: Forever Knight, its characters and settings (well, not Toronto) are the creations of James D. Parriott and belong to him and various production companies. No infringement is intended.
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